History in Song: “Alive with the Glory of Love” by Say Anything

An alternative rock song about the Holocaust? That probably sounds strange. And the result has been described as an “intense and oddly uplifting rocker about a relationship torn by the Holocaust.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Alive with the Glory of Love” (2004) by the emo/indie/alternative rock band Say Anything, is loosely based on the lives of the grandparents of the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Max Bemis. Both of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

The song tells the story of two lovers during the years of the Holocaust moving from the ghetto, to hiding, to work camps. But does so to an upbeat punk rock beat rather than anything one could call sentimental. A bit irreverent and written with more modern language, the song actually does a wonderful job of humanizing, personalizing, and giving agency to the story of Holocaust survivors.

The terrible atrocities of the Holocaust included dehumanizing entire groups of people including the Jewish, disabled, homosexuals, and others; however, the humanity of these groups lived on in their love for their partners and families, in their resistance, overt and covert, and in their ability to rebuild lives and communities after the war. Some depictions of victims and survivors of the Holocaust can put too much emphasis on what happened to them rather than what they were able to actively do in the face of such great oppression. This song shines a light on the relationships and emotions that victims might have felt when facing potential separation.

This song also demonstrates that all genres of music can be inspired by the past and are often connected to personal and family histories as well.

Music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUws596eChQ

Lyrics:

When I watch you, want to do you, right where you’re standing yeah
Right on the foyer on this dark day right in plain view oh yeah
Of the whole ghetto, the boot-stomped meadows, but we ignore that yea
You’re lovely baby, this war is crazy, I won’t let you down oh no no no
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
No oh no no no

And when our city vast and shitty
Falls to the Axis, yeah [the Axis powers of World War II consisted of Germany, Italy, and Japan.]
They’ll search the buildings collect gold fillings, wallets, and rings [the Germans were notorious for stealing any item of any value from the Jewish people including even their gold fillings and personal effects.]

But Miss Black Eyeliner you’d look finer with each day in hiding oh yea
Beneath the worm wood, ooh love me so good, [this line evokes the image of hiding beneath floor boards to avoid being taken away to the camps. Some Jewish theology equates wormwood with evil or at least with bitterness, but I am far from an expert there.]
They won’t hear us screw away the day, I’ll make you say

(Alive, alive, alive with love)
No I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
Oh no I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you

Our Treblinka is alive with the glory of love [Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in Poland and was the site of the genocide of 700,000-900,000 Jewish people and 2,000 Romani people by gas chamber]
Treblinka, alive with the glory of love yea
Should they catch us and dispatch us to those separate work camps yeah
I’ll think about you, I’ll dream about you
I will not doubt you with the passing of time
Should they kill me your love will fill me as warm as the bullets
I’ll know my purpose, this was was worth this, I won’t let you down
No I won’t, no I won’t, no I won’t
(Alive, alive, alive with love)
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no

** A few details of the song are not representative of the majority of the experiences of Holocaust victims. Since Treblinka was an extermination camp, not a work camp, the vast majority of people were immediately killed upon arrival with just a few men put to work to operate the gas chambers and bury the dead. Gas chambers replaced guns as the primary way of carrying out the genocide.

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